Reading 1 - Neh 2:18
Many lessons of a very practical nature might be gleaned from the inspired diary of "the king's cupbearer" (Neh 1:11). For the present purposes, however, we shall concentrate on the qualities of character that constituted Nehemiah "a wise masterbuilder" (1Co 3:10) and give us guidelines to do likewise.
Having learned from his brother Hanani (Neh 1:2) that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and the gates burned (v 3), Nehemiah pleaded with Artaxerxes for permission to travel to the land of his fathers to promote a reconstruction program (Neh 2:1-8). After a long and rigorous journey he finally arrived at Jerusalem; within only three days, ever the tireless worker, he was up and about on an inspection tour of the city and its fortifications. Nehemiah found many adversaries ready to hinder the work (v 10), while very few were willing to help in the building.
After viewing the desolations, he called the nobles and the priests together and explained his purpose, and how the king had supported him. They were so impressed that their response was immediate, concerted, and sincere -- "Let us rise up and build" (Neh 2:18). The work was well-organized by Nehemiah, and construction began without delay.
But it did not go perfectly; the characters of Nehemiah and his brethren, like ours, must be tempered by adversity and hardship. There was opposition from the neighboring Samaritans and Gentiles, who used both guile and physical threats in an attempt to intimidate Nehemiah and impede his work. Most troublesome yet, there were internal dissensions: the Tekoite nobles would not "put their necks to the work" (Neh 3:5), and the men of Judah were prophets of pessimism (Neh 4:10). But Nehemiah did not despair, or lose hope; he maintained his impressive example and cheerful disposition at all times. It was characteristic of this man (and typical of Christ!) that he prayed for the forgiveness of the sins of the people as though they were his sins too! "We have sinned", said he, and he was willing to share in the guilt of his nation, his "ecclesia" (Neh 1:6,7). The knowledge of the sins of his brethren did not discourage him, nor impel him to disassociate himself from the work, but only to redouble his efforts to bring the nation to repentance and finish their task. His enthusiasm was infectious, and the great work of repairing the wall was completed in only 52 days (Neh 6:15), "for the people had a mind to work" (Neh 4:6).
Reading 2 - Hos 12:3,4
"In the womb he [Jacob] grasped his brother's heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there" (Hos 12:3,4).
Jacob received his name ("Supplanter", or "the one who grabs by the heel") when he grasped his brother's heel while he was still in the womb of his mother Rebekah (Gen 25:26). This was a preview of the grasping character that marked him all his life (Gen 27:35,36).
In later life -- "as a man" -- Jacob also continued to struggle or wrestle with God. In fact, Jacob was contending with God when he wrestled with the angel at Peniel. Yet there he prevailed over God's angel -- not by strength of arm -- but by weeping and pleading with him to bless him (Gen 32:22-32).
This event was a turning point in Jacob's life because he finally realized that he could not succeed simply by manipulation and trickery. He recognized His need for God's help and turned to Him in desperation. This was the occasion of Jacob's repentance.
Another significant event in Jacob's life was when he returned to Bethel, where God had appeared to him in a dream years earlier (Gen 28:10-22). This return to Bethel and the act of worship Jacob performed there were in obedience to God's word to him to go there and fulfill his former vow (Gen 35:1-14).
This too was an act of submissive obedience and resulted in God changing Jacob's name to Israel (which signifies "prince with God"), blessing him, and renewing the Abrahamic covenant with him.
It is ironic that the place where Jacob put himself right with God was Bethel, since Bethel was the place where the Israelites went wrong by worshipping idols. Jacob's return to God at Bethel provided a good example for Israel: they might still set themselves right with God at the same place as their ancestor had!
Whereas the NIV has "and talked with HIM there", the AV reads "and there he spake with US." Several translations follow the LXX and Syriac: "there he spoke with HIM" (RSV, NEB, NIV) -- while others follow the Masoretic Text: "there he spoke with US" (KJV, NASB).
The "us" reading very reasonably suggests that the prophet Hosea was keen to apply the lesson to himself and all Israelites. So often in the Bible, when God speaks to an individual, we should realize that -- through the inspiration and preservation of the Scriptures and His providence -- He is speaking with... every one of us! (In this connection, notice how the very last verse of Hosea emphasizes this point -- that the whole of the book is given to ALL OF US, that is, to ANY who will listen!)
Reading 3 - Col 4:5
"Make the most of every opportunity" (Col 4:5).
"Redeem the time" (KJV). The Greek "exagorazo" means, literally, to buy out of the marketplace. What is being "bought"? If we are prudent, we are using the minutes and hours and days we have been given to "buy up the opportunities" in daily life to serve and glorify our Heavenly Father.
"Love, thankfulness, and knowledge of God: we never have enough. We never begin to have enough. The amount God will judge us by is the amount we could have developed in the time, opportunity, and ability He has given each one. Are we, as commanded, 'redeeming the time' -- every moment? Or are we wasting it in folly and self-pleasing? What a tragedy to appear at the judgment seat of Christ in our cute little play-suit, full of jokes and games, but with our lamps and minds dark and empty! Who dares contemplate the shame and the hopeless remorse?" (GV Growcott).
If we had to buy time, would there be any difference in how we would spend it? Would the days of our lives be used more wisely? What if we had to pay in advance $100 an hour for the time allotted to us? Would we waste it?
Of course, we can't put a price tag on the minutes and hours we possess. They are given to us freely. But that doesn't excuse us from using them conscientiously, carefully, and wisely. The giver of time is God Himself, and that places a far greater value upon it than any monetary figure could suggest. We must therefore use our time intelligently, taking advantage of opportunities it provides for us to serve the Lord and to do His will.